No one would deny the need for punishments as a consequence of offences. Thereby, the compromise of certain rights in case of prisoners is often thought to be justified. In Bangladesh, though the slogan of the Central Jail is “We shall keep you safe and guide you towards enlightenment”, the reality is exactly the opposite. Basic rights in prison are often at stake in the prisons in Bangladesh.
According to International Centre for Prison Studies, the total prison population of Bangladesh as of October 2016 was 78,578 against an official capacity of 36,614. Section 129 of the Bangladesh Jail Code illustrates that there should be enough space for sleeping for the prisoners. However, prisoners often sleep in shifts. Among the total 68 prisons across the country, according to IG of Prisons only six doctors remain functioning in 5 prisons. As a result, medical needs mostly remain unattended. Additionally, according to the Jail Code, every prisoner is entitled to a certain amount of food, when in fact the prisoners often do not get any food to eat at all. Bangladesh is yet to ensure the basic rights of prisoners let alone other rights which are no less important to which the world is heading towards.
Section 40 of the Prisons Act 1894 makes provision for inmates to meet with persons he desires to meet. In effect, there is a facility in the prison for the relatives to see the prisoner by purchasing a ticket from the prison authority. However, the room is often so overcrowded that the visitors and the prisoners can barely see each other. In this regard, a conjugal visit can be the way through which the inmates can spend private time in designated room in the prison with their relatives, usually with their legal spouse where they may engage in sexual activity. In Canada, inmates are allowed to have conjugal visits for 72 hours once every two months. In USA, only 4 states allow such visits. There are a number of justifications for such visits and the focus is usually on rehabilitation. The visits allow the inmates to stay in close contact with family to whom they can return to once they are released. Moreover, in the UK, the prisoners are allowed home visits few months before their release in order to help them reestablish community tie.
Moreover, in Bangladesh, prisoners do not have right to vote in national elections. The prohibition is based on an outdated conception of punishment. In many European Countries, prisoners enjoy a right to vote, though the extent of this right is different in various countries. In Australia prisoners serving a sentence of less than 3 years can vote in Federal elections. Though the approach of the world is divided towards prisoners' right to vote, it is high time the position be reviewed in Bangladesh. It is argued that while right to food and medical needs are respected in the prisons, a ban on voting rights is an unjustified course of action in consequence of the wrong committed. The denial of right to have a say on deciding the policies that will govern the nation, often termed as “civil death” can prove out to be harsh on the prisoners.
The writer is a Barrister-at-Law, Lincoln's Inn.